The Best Place to Make Mistakes. Ever.

(Originally sent out as an article under Eagles' Simply Proclaim)

There’s a saying that practice doesn’t make perfect—it makes permanent. What practice does is ingrain habits in us, but we need to be sure those aren’t the wrong habits. And that’s where feedback comes in.

The question: “How can I improve my preaching?” is always at the back of my mind. The logical answer would be: “By preaching more.”

But before I got comfortable addressing a church congregation, I wanted to practice and receive constructive feedback without being bashed with criticism. What I needed was to find a place friendly and loving enough to encourage me to continue to improve my preaching, without tearing me apart.

My answer, as I journey through this phase of learning to preach, is to immerse myself in a community of like-minded budding preachers whom I meet regularly and hold myself accountable to.

Here are three ways you’ll benefit from learning in a group:

1. They experience the same struggle as you.

What can you expect from a group of budding preachers? We are all learning and just beginning our preaching journey. We face the same struggles in terms of interpreting the Scriptures accurately, delivering the main idea of our sermon, preparing the most appropriate illustrations and stories for the message and challenging the congregation for the altar call, etc.

There are so many things that we are learning as a community, and we know that we all face these exact same struggles. This means that we can join each other in identifying our issues in our sermon preparation and delivery, as well as other issues that arise from preaching. We can afford to be real with one another, without fear of judgment or undue criticism.

2. Everyone has weak points to improve on.

We are all equally interested in improving and honing our own preaching skills alongside one another. As such, we can gather together and rehearse our messages to each other in one setting—listening and offering feedback in a single session.

I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in my own personal journey as well. A community like ARETE brings people together who share a common passion for the proclamation of the Word. At each session, we listen to one another’s sermons and provide our two-cents worth of comments to one another, hoping that we will be inspired more the next time we hear from one another.

ARETE’s very first session builds affirmation into the process. We started out by introducing ourselves on stage, then writing out one another’s strengths. Imagine my surprise to read messages like: “You’re genuine when you speak” and “You’ve an authentic voice” helped me to realize my own strengths, build upon them and take feedback in the knowledge that these same people were also affirming me.

3. They probably won’t have any interest in tearing you down.

Finally, I know from my very heart that the people in my preaching community will have no interest in tearing me down. Ideally, no Christian should—but it’s not an ideal world. ARETE recognizes this, so I know any criticism comes from people who do so out of love, not to make me feel bad. As such, it’s a safe environment where I can practice and give it my all, so that any mistakes I make will be made there, not ‘live’ in front of an unforgiving audience.

During one practice session, I preached a message on the sovereignty of God. Someone pointed out that I had missed an opportunity to assure my audience of His personal love, grace and help for believers in their time of need.

Others told me, “Well done, you managed to do it without notes!” and “You did a good job in making the sermon relevant for all of us.” Everyone showed me my faults and affirmed my strengths with no hint of putting me down.

As a budding preacher, one of the best things you can do is find such a community. Check with your local church, or enroll in a program like ARETE—so that there’ll be godly, encouraging support in your journey.

What have your experiences with having your preaching critiqued been like? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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